MZ-Tools Articles Series: HOWTO: Create a setup for a Visual Studio 2005 / 2008 add-in using Inno Setup

This is another of those articles long overdue that I kept in a list and that I wanted to write. Back in 2004 I finished the first commercial version of my MZ-Tools add-in for .NET and despite my hate for setups (I much prefer XCOPY deployment to be confident that my computer remains uncorrupted) I knew I had to create one because my customers would expect it (the free versions of MZ-Tools for VB6/VBA/VB5 didn’t have a setup until many years after its origin back in the year 2000) and alas, add-ins in VS.NET are much more complicated to deploy (you needed an ActiveX/COM shim control to create toolwindows in VS.NET 2002/2003, for example).

So, my first choice was, of course, the MSI-based setup project that VS.NET 2002 created for each add-in project. The result was that, if I already hated setups, I hate MSI-based setups even more since then. I found several problems:

  • The setup used a progress bar that when reached 100%, it started again for a second phase. Being a perfectionist, I prefer a single pass from 0% to 100%, and if for some reason the setup can’t go from 0% to 50% in the first phase and from 50% to 100% in the second phase, I much prefer no progressbar at all (alas, my current uninstaller has the same problem that I have been unable to solve yet although I am close). Anyway, this is a minor detail.
  • For some customizations you couldn’t use the setup project properties, but you needed a tool named Orca MSI editor, or something like that.
  • If you want a multilanguage setup (not a different setup for each language) I think that it was not possible.
  • I needed slightly different setups for the trial version and the full version, and the setup project didn’t allow that easily.
  • And finally there was a nasty bug (or “by design” issue) that I documented and reported to Microsoft: BUG: Visual Studio .NET Setup Projects Execute Custom Action of Previous Version when Upgrading.

Finally I gave up MSI and searching alternatives, I found Inno Setup, a free script based setup. It allows multilanguage setups in a single .exe, it has preprocessor capabilities (conditional compilation that I use for the Trial/Full version) and despite being script-based it has a companion ISTool to create the setup more user-friendly. Furthermore it has great forums, 3rd party tools and web sites devoted to provide useful scripts for some tasks. And guess what? Its progress bar goes a single time from 0% to 100% and very fast :-).

So, despite being now a Microsoft MVP and being aware that Microsoft greatly recommends MSI for setups due to its transaction capabilities, if you need a setup for an add-in (not for a VS SDK package) which uses XML registration and no COM registration is involved, you are quite safe using a non MSI-based setup (FWIW my add-in uses COM registration for historical reasons and I have had no problems with my customers using Inno Setup).

Since InnoSetup is script-based and it uses Pascal as language for the custom code, I wrote a ready-to-use Inno Setup script that you can customize easily and use. The details are in the following article:

HOWTO: Create a setup for a Visual Studio 2005 / 2008 add-in using Inno Setup